It's not performed quite as often as A Doll's House or Hedda Gabler, but Little Eyolf is still a work of Ibsen; all fjords and Victorian Nordic angst. Little Eyolf is something of an oddball in the Ibsen library; not so quite as depressing as most (well, at least the ending isn’t so depressing), and even having some pseudo-supernatural themes. It tells the story of Alfred Allmers (Christopher Michael Todd) and his wife, Rita (Alyssa Simon), an upper-class couple in a frigid marriage, with a disabled son named "little" Eyolf (Raum Aron). The mysteries of why Eyolf needs a crutch and the true significance of his name are unraveled over the course of a story rife with plot twists revolving around 19th-century sexual repression.
The Allmers’ home gets shaken up when Ibsen introduces a mystical woman called The Rat Wife (Margaret A. Flanagan), a Pied Piper of sorts who makes a living clearing villages of rat infestations. (She lures “the poor little things that are hated and persecuted so cruelly” out to sea to drown.) There’s also a mysterious relationship between Alfred and his sister Asta (Anne Petersen) too, which holds true to Ibsen’s talent for dealing with taboo subjects.
This production used a new adaptation by David Greenwood, which is intended to "fall readily from contemporary American actors’ mouths." On occasion modern phases like "cut it out" stuck out, when spoken by 19th-century Europeans, but the dialog generally rang true.
The venue was a small, informal playing space, and the set design (by Casey Smith) was minimalist, little more than a few chairs. The play doesn't really need more than that, but there was a general sense of sparseness in the room. After the first act, a white curtain was set up on one wall and served as a screen to project an image of the fjord near the Allmers’ home (which was integral to the story). Although visually engaging, the projection also emphasized the lack of a set.
The period costumes (designed by Alice Bryant Cubicciotti) were the best design element. Most characters wore only one outfit, but they were all excellent period designs on a modest budget.
The cast (rounded out by Glenn B. Stoops as Engineer Borgheim) were all competent; and kudos go to 10-year-old moppet Raum-Aron for tackling Ibsen at such a young age.
Greenwood’s direction (and adaptation) made some of the subtext a bit more overt than Ibsen might have intended, but modern audiences are certainly more difficult to shock than their Victorian counterparts, who would most likely have gasped at the merest implication of the play’s subplots like incest or infanticide.
One of the goals of The Fresh Look Theatre Company is to take -- well, fresh looks at the classics. Little Eyolf doesn’t get produced very often, and this look at it might be the only one New York gets for a few years, so Ibsen fans will certainly find it a treat.
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Copyright 2006 Charles Battersby